Football Betting

Ben Gray: Despite the European Court of Justice’s ruling, a Super League is not imminent

The European Super League is back! It’s like April 2021 all over again, or is it?

On Thursday morning, to the surprise of most, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg announced a surprise ruling.

In simple terms, the ECJ agreed with the Super League’s claims that FIFA and UEFA should not have a monopoly over organising football competitions, meaning these governing bodies are unable to rule any breakaway competitions unlawful.

This is catastrophic news for UEFA while, in legal terms, the ruling gives the green light to A22 Sports Management, the group behind the Super League, to organise their own competition.

But will this actually happen? What are A22 proposing? What could be the wider ramifications for existing competitions?

What is the Super League proposal?

The closed-shop, American franchise league style competition initially proposed in 2021 was incredibly unpopular, so A22 have come back with a new format.

Nevertheless, in the same way that James Bond or Doctor Who are played by different actors but are still the same character, this may look different, but is fundamentally still the same.

The proposed format announced on Thursday features three-tiers, Star, Gold and Blue, with 16 clubs in the top two divisions, while 32 clubs will compete in the bottom-tier.

Right now, in UEFA’s existing three-tier set-up, 96 clubs compete, a figure that’ll rise to 108 from next season.

The competitions consists of two phases, a league phase and a two-legged knockout phase, which sounds familiar doesn’t it?

The bottom two clubs in the star and gold leagues are relegated, while 20 clubs are ejected from the blue league and replaced by teams based ‘on their domestic league performance’.

There are so many issues with this, so where to begin?

Well, first, once you’re in the ‘star league’ all you have to do is avoid finishing bottom of your group and you’ll remain there, regardless of domestic league performance.

So, even though A22′s press release claims, on multiple occasions, there are no ‘permanent members’, while this is factually correct, it is fundamentally inaccurate.

Just two of the 16 clubs in the ‘star league’ are relegated each season so, for example, if Chelsea were in the star league, the fact they’re currently languishing tenth in the Premier League would be inconsequential.

Also, as mentioned, there would be a major reduction in European spots available, going down from 108 to 64.

So why would clubs who dominate their domestic leagues, Celtic, Crvena zvezda, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb and many more, go for this, when they qualify for UEFA competition every year?

Similarly, clubs just below the serial champions of mid-ranking leagues, Partizan Belgrade, Panathinaikos, Aberdeen et al., who rely on European revenue, are not going to be in favour of a reduction in spots.

In recent times, we’ve seen Sheriff Tiraspol, Royal Antwerp, Viktoria Plzeň, Midtjylland, Qarabağ, Maribor, Ludogorets and APOEL get into the Champions League group stages via the champions path qualifiers, mobility that would be impossible via the proposed format.

The top-tier of the Super League would see them same dozen clubs facing off relentlessly, with little scope for anyone from anywhere to break into the elite.

How are the Super League going to try and win people over?

It’s fair to say that the Super League has got pretty bad PR, synonymous with greed, destroying football and the wide-spread fan protests we all witness and, in many cases, participated in and enjoyed two years ago.

So, A22 are doing their upmost the change the narrative, a battle we don’t expect them to win, with making football ‘free for all’ their main selling point.

They claim ‘the cost of football has become too expensive for many fans’, which is defiantly true, so they’ve proposed to make all Super League matches ‘free’, with all revenue coming from advertising.

Well, to that I say good luck.

The value of advertising revenue from many sectors, other than gambling, crypto and nation-state backed entities, is dwindling, with TV companies becoming less and less profitable, even those that require high subscription prices.

UEFA secured €2.6 billion of revenue via TV rights for their club competitions in 2021/22, and there’s just absolutely no way the Super League can reach anything like that figure via an in-house free streaming platform.

Yes, more football should be free-to-air and subscription fees in the UK in particular, especially considering that three of even four are needed, are scandalously high, but the Super League are not going to fix this, don’t believe them!

How can we use to the Super League to improve current competitions?

Since the ECJ court ruling was announced on Thursday morning, there has been widespread condemnation of the proposed Super League from all and sundry.

The Premier League, UEFA, Bundesliga, La Liga, England’s traditional ‘big six’, Serie A, Bayern Munich, PSG, Feyenoord, Celtic, the British Government, Porto, Monaco, Inter and many more have all released statements saying they do not recognise the Super League.

Florentino Pérez published a video in support of A22 whilst standing in front of Real Madrid’s array of European Cups, something PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi certainly found amusing.

So, if the the Super League isn’t on the cards, what can we do to improve the game we have?

This announcement comes at an interesting time for the sport, given that both the UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup are both expending.

I wrote extensively about the Club World Cup this week, as it becomes a quadrennial 32-team tournament, which you can read all about here.

As for the Champions League, this will move to the new ‘Swiss-system’ league phase next season, with each club guaranteed eight matches, up from six, while the maximum number of games also increases from 13 to 17.

Spoiler alert, neither of these format changes are good news, with the already jam-packed schedule only set to become more problematic for players, while it’s no coincidence that multiple clubs are enduring injury crises.

For now however, never has the proverb ‘better the devil you know’ been more applicable.

Now that UEFA no longer holds a monopoly when it comes to organising competitions, clubs, executives and players should be able to come together to oppose counterintuitive changes to competitions.

FIFPRO, the global footballers trade union, has also come out against the Super League, and hopefully this will empower players to oppose other changes, namely the Club World Cup, taking a stand, saying enough is enough.

Whether or not this actually happens, only time will tell, but the threat of a Super League will not go away, so we need to turn this into a positive, and make the game better in the long-run.

Ben Gray

Ben Gray

Arsenal fan – follow them over land and sea (and Leicester); sofa Celtic supporter; a bit of a football '"encyclopedia".